ST. LOUIS — Barry Zito briefly considered it, but he wouldn't rank the great defensive plays his teammates on the San Francisco Giants made Friday night. It would be like picking favorites with your children. But he did name a few that he really appreciated.
The Giants defense definitely made its presence felt in a 5-0 victory against the St. Louis Cardinals in Game 5 of the NLCS, one that extended San Francisco's season at least one more plane flight West. Zito tossed 7 2/3 innings, allowing six hits and one intentional walk — perhaps the best performance of his career, given the stakes. But his line wouldn't have been nearly as clean without the likes of Hunter Pence and Angel Pagan in the outfield, along with Pablo Sandoval and Marco Scutaro in the infield.
The first play Zito mentioned was Pence making a basket catch on Pete Kozma in the fifth inning. But what perhaps Zito didn't realize: Pence made a basket catch without the basket. The ball nicked his bare hand and fell between it and his left wrist. His glove had nothing to do with it. There's really no reason he should have caught the ball. But he did:
[Jeff Passan: Barry Zito enjoyed Giant resurrection in Game 5]
Zito: "Just a testament to his athletic ability. Incredible."
And he also replaced his divot. Good etiquette.
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Zito also praised a diving catch of a line drive down the third-base line by Pablo Sandoval. Very Kung Fu Panda of him. Appropriate, given that Zito gave him the nickname.
Zito: "Panda making that diving catch on the cutter to Allen Craig was awesome."
It would have been a foul ball, but Craig broke his bat on the play — so who knows what happens if he gets another swing with a fresh piece of wood in his hands and a runner at second base?
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Scutaro ranged deep into the hole on the right side and slid into the outfield in order to grab a sharp grounder by Shane Robinson in the fifth inning. Just as impressively, Scutaro reached his feet, pivoted and threw him out at first.
Scutaro was so jazzed about his play, he pumped his right arm like Tiger Woods.
Said Scutaro: "I thought I had a chance. And when I caught it, the hardest thing was to get rid of the ball. I did, and it pumped me up. These guys are doing it. Now it's my turn."
Teammate Brandon Crawford, probably the best defensive player on the roster, added: "I was giving him a little golf clap."
* * *
Finally, Pagan continued to dazzle, ending the sixth inning with a sliding catch of Allen Craig's sinking liner to center.
Zito: "And Pagan, who we tend to be spoiled by his defense because he's making diving plays out there like that once every two or three games.
"They were all huge."
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